Luzerne County still has $19 million in federal pandemic funding for rental assistance

Luzerne County has approved $1.35 million in emergency assistance for approximately 311 residential renters to date, but it still has a sizable $19 million remaining to help those financially struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Thursday.

The money is part of $847 million in federal pandemic assistance funding collectively awarded to the state’s 67 counties for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, officials said.

State Human Services Department Secretary Teresa Miller held a virtual media briefing Thursday to highlight the temporary program and encourage applications from renters at risk of eviction or utility service loss or landlords with tenants in this situation.

The program is designed to help people “dig out of what may be some very deep holes,” she said.

“Let me be very clear. This program is a big deal,” Miller said. “It has the potential to stabilize the lives of millions of Pennsylvanians in vulnerable housing situations and provide a much-needed infusion of cash to the residential rental industry.”

Luzerne County initially received $9.4 million shortly before it started accepting applications in March but later was awarded an additional $11.4 million for the rental program, said county Community Development Director Andrew Reilly.

Of the 311 county renters receiving assistance to date, the breakdown was $1.3 million for rent and $59,000 for utilities.

Another 430 county applicants are awaiting a determination.

The Commission on Economic Opportunity, or CEO, is operating the program on behalf of Reilly’s office.

Funds may be used to pay rent and utility costs incurred after March 13, 2020. Future rental payments also may be covered, with eligibility recertification required every three months.

Landlords can apply for tenants, but the tenants must provide eligibility documentation.

There are several steps to determine eligibility, county Manager C. David Pedri had said when announcing the program.

To begin, a rental household must qualify for unemployment or have experienced financial hardship as a direct or indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hardship examples may include a period of unemployment, income decreases or rising household expenses.

Next, the rental household must demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability, overdue or delinquent rent or utilities or a notice of eviction or utility shut-off due to late or non-payment.

Finally, the renter must meet income guidelines to be eligible. Applicant households must have income at or below 80% of the area median income.

The maximum gross yearly incomes based on household size: one person, $40,150; two people, $45,900; three people, $51,650; four people, $57,350; five people, $61,950; six people, $66,550; seven people, $71,150; and eight people, $75,750.

The following documents must be submitted by renters: an application; a written lease or documentation of a verbal lease; documentation of all gross income; copies of utility bills, if utility assistance is being requested; and an applicant certification.

Landlords must provide a landlord application, proof of the rental property ownership and a W-9 form.

Applications and more program information are available on CEO’s website at www.ceopeoplehelpingpeople.org. Completed applications can be submitted through the website, emailed to [email protected] or mailed to CEO at P.O. Box 1126, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18703-1126.

Applicants with questions or requests for assistance completing the required forms can contact CEO at 1-800-822-0359 weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

During her briefing, Miller said communities will suffer in the long run if landlords stop renting properties due to shortfalls.

“Without smaller landlords operating in the market, tenants have fewer and potentially less accommodating choices,” Miller said. “If ever there was a time for a robust safety net, this is it.”

She urged eligible residents to act quickly.

“While $847 million is a lot of money that can help a lot of people, it is first come, first served,” Miller said.

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Author: Dallas Post


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